Pittsburgh Public Market represents the rebirth of an old style of shopping. Like most cities, Pittsburgh once housed several market houses scattered throughout the city. The markets served as a central place for shoppers to purchase food & goods from multiple retailers under one roof.
Pittsburgh’s last public market house was demolished in 1965 to make way for development on the North Side, greatly reducing the opportunities for local farmers, vendors & artisans to showcase their wares and for consumers to enjoy the freshness, variety and uniqueness of the food and merchandise grown and created in our region.
In 2003 Neighbors in the Strip (NITS) began studies and plans to create an indoor, year-round public market located in what is already Pittsburgh’s historic market district, the Strip. NITS focused on developing a public market that promotes the growth of new businesses, allows for the expansion of local businesses, and features the best of what our region offers.
What is a Public Market?
A public market is distinguished from other retail ventures primarily by its public goals. Depending on the location and the needs of the community, these public goals can consist of factors such as:
- Attracting customers to an urban neighborhood and stimulating the development of small businesses
- Supporting affordable retail opportunities and serving as an incubator for small businesses
- Providing opportunities for local farmers, thus preserving farmland
- Providing quality fresh produce and other products in urban areas where supermarkets are sparse
- Serving as a resource for nutritional education and cooking or cultural information for the public
- Preserving historic structures and uses
- Retaining quality and diverse options in product choices for consumers
- Instilling community spirit and cultural exchange by providing a public space which attracts socially, economically, racially and ethnically diverse crowds.
The popularity of public markets is not surprising since they are the original gathering places for people. Public markets have been the heart and soul of communities as long as people have lived in cities.
For more information on public markets, visit Public Markets and the City: A Historical Perspective, Project for Public Spaces.
What happened to the public market halls in Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh has had a number of public markets over the years. The first, Allegheny Market House on the North Side (pictured above), began operations in 1863. The building was modernized and renovated, but a portion of the market house was damaged by fire in 1944. The building was demolished in 1965 to make way for an apartment high rise and shopping mall in Allegheny Center.
The South Side Market House opened in 1893. Owned by the city, the market became a financial drain and was closed in 1943. When the building was threatened with demolition in the 1970’s, South Side residents and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation campaigned to save it and the South Side Market House was transformed into the South Side Recreation Center.
The East Liberty Market House was built in 1900, but was unsuccessful and was sold to the Pittsburgh Automobile Association for its auto shows in 1915. Through the 1920’s the building was also used for sporting events and it became a car dealership in the 1940’s. In 1988 the building was bought by AAA and redesigned as an upscale shopping mall. The retail mall failed, but AAA expanded to occupy the building, along with other professional office space.
Market Square was created in 1764 as Pittsburgh’s first business and shopping district. Often a market house sat on this site, most significantly the Diamond Market from 1914 to 1961 when it was demolished. Another venture, Market on the Square, a meat and food market attached to G.C. Murphy’s was closed in 1994.
What’s the big deal about ‘buying local’?
You’ve probably heard that buying local is good for the local economy because it supports local businesses; that it’s good for the environment because food is usually produced in a more ecologically sensitive manner by small farms and all products require the use of less energy for shipping; and that local food is better for you because it’s fresher and contains more nutrients. Even some of the large corporate and chain stores are trying to latch onto the desire for local products.
But if you want fresh food & local products at reasonable prices sold in a friendly atmosphere, then you will appreciate the charm of a local market and buying directly from the person who grew the food or created the product.
So, the question is: Do you want to shop at a large chain and send money to some far away corporate headquarters, even overseas, or do you want to buy directly from the grower and eat food that was picked that day?
For more information on the value of buying local, visit the 3/50 Project.